Freedom of speech.
It’s an often-heard term that represents one of the biggest differences between society in the United States and in most other countries. But it’s a concept that isn’t adhered to by some of the very people who claim to love it most.
Obviously, when the foundational documents of this nation refer to such freedoms, they aren’t singling out talking, but are including other forms of expression like the written word and the printed picture. And also obviously, that’s where the notion of “freedom of the press” comes from.
Let’s face it – there’s no downside to allowing news sources of all kinds to openly share whatever they consider to be “news,” and suppression of that sharing within the boundaries of common sense (which excludes slander, libel and that which is simply indecent) would steer America away from its very roots.
But like I said, not everyone gets that.
Take for example some of what happened last week at the University of Missouri. While the scenario as a whole is at best a shame and at worst a disastrous example of how fragile the organized, sheltered lifestyle Americans have come to take for granted really is, one aspect of what went down in Columbia fascinates me, and depicts some people’s view on the whole freedom of speech thing. I’d say it pretty much highlights how some people apparently feel everyone has that freedom unless what’s being said or portrayed isn’t to their liking.
I’m specifically referring to the actions of two women who worked at Mizzou: Melissa Click, a woman who – incredibly – worked as an assistant professor for the communications department and Janna Basler, the school’s director of Greek Life.
A quick resent: On freelance assignment by a TV network, MU student photographer Tim Tai went to the scene of the “tent city” set up by protestors on the school’s campus. Similarly, videographer Mark Schierbecker was there to shoot some footage.
As they went about their business, both Tai and Schierbecker withstood vial insults from many of the students involved in the protest, and were for some reason perceived as an enemy rather than ally. But even more amazingly, they both ended up on the defensive end of outbursts by Click and Basler, who basically tried to make them stop working.
As they were confronted by these anger-driven women, they each stated their First Amendment right to be doing what they were doing, also pointing out that the same right allowed the protestors to be doing what they were doing. But motivated by who knows what, the women remained steadfastly determined to establish their dominance and usurp the cameramen’s rights, and at one point Click even tried to recruit “some muscle” to make Schierbecker go away.
Schirebecker went on file an official complaint against Click, and Click ultimately ended up “resigning” from her post (that school officials said was only a “courtesy position” in the first place). I’m guessing her exit was less due to remorse or contrition and more by suggestion of a superior with a more level head who understands things she doesn’t, like the real meaning of “freedom.”
Not surprisingly, Basler was “relieved” of her duties, as school officials stated she was “unfit” to represent Mizzou.
Suppression of freedom. So, ladies, how did that work out?
But it’s not even what the two women physically did that amazes me most. It’s that in trying to suppress Schierbecker and Tai, they were actually acting in complete and utter opposition to their own best interests.
Look at it this way: The two camera guys were there to “cover” the protest, and in turn would in effect promote its cause – whether directly or indirectly. So basically, Click and Basler were suppressing promotion of their own cause.
It’s like, “Hey, I protest your promotion of our protest!”
Anyway, self-appointed ambassadors of arrogance and antagonism notwithstanding, the exemplary work done by Tai and Schierbecker can’t be downplayed. They held their ground in an unfortunate and ugly situation, and did so with a great mix of dignity and empathy.
Two points for freedom of the press.
On a related note, I don’t like President Barack Obama – and I’m free to say so. But I always want to give credit where it’s due and he had some really good things to say about the plight of the two young picture-makers.
To paraphrase his words, he said we (meaning we, as in everyone) can’t come to a point where we’re no longer willing to listen to other people. He said if you disagree, go ahead and argue, but don’t try to stop someone from expressing their views.
I have to admit, that was well put.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. His columns are posted online at www.houstonherald.com. Email: email@example.com.